02/07/2005 at 01:00 AM EST
The glittery makeup? Gone. Ditto the pigtails and cutesy outfits. But the biggest change for Emma Bunton—a.k.a. the former Baby Spice—may be her fan base. "I was at the airport," says Bunton, "and three men came up and started singing 'Free Me'"—the first single off her new solo CD of the same name. "I'm used to 10-year-olds! And these guys were in their 30s. It was fabulous."
Her sound may be more mature, but she's hardly become All-Grown-Up-and-Serious Spice. With "Free Me", a hit in the U.K. that landed in U.S. stores in January, the 29-year-old singer aims for a fun, '60s groove, she says: "It's not heavy. My mother and father used to play Motown constantly. I just wanted to capture a little bit of that." And she still keeps in touch with her fellow former Spices. Despite the group's 2001 split, "we are always on the phone, checking everyone's all right," says Bunton, who's dating British musician Jade Jones. "We talk about boys and what we're wearing. Girly stuff."